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RAFN Company

RAFN Company: Taking on Seattle's unique projects

Written By Gabe Perna

Written By Gabe Perna
RAFN Company: Taking on Seattle's unique projects
Written By Gabe Perna

There is something very unique about the RAFN Company that becomes evident when you meet the people behind the organization. The company tagline "good people - great work" came from the repeated comments of satisfied customers.

Chief Executive Tom Ambrey learned a lot about what kind of construction company he wanted to be involved with from his father at a very early age. He has come a long way since his dad looked at him and his twin brother Frank as 12-year-old free labor. Tom has been instrumental in stewarding the leadership of RAFN from a small family-owned business into a world-class company that has planted firm roots in the Puget Sound region. Tom has been an employee of the now 30-year-old RAFN for 29 years and 10 months.

RAFN CULTURE
Ambrey's father had a strong work ethic and that was a good inheritance, but balance was a missing ingredient. Ambrey has worked hard to instill balance into the RAFN Company culture. The company strives to achieve annual goals based on a balanced scorecard approach to business. This model uses four segments to outline business goals: Financial, Employees, Customers and Processes.

Each of the four owners of RAFN has come to their current position in similar fashion to its CEO. Shawn Rhode, President and COO, will be celebrating his 26th year with the firm in October. Ambrey and Rhode started at RAFN as carpenters in the trades. Heather Beaulieu, RAFN's Vice-President of Business Development came to RAFN 18 years ago, having spent seven years in the trenches with another construction firm. This is also CFO Kim Bottles' second experience with a general contractor. These four tackle the business of RAFN based on the Balanced Scorecard Model.

It is no wonder, then, that RAFN is one of the most successful general contractors in the Seattle area. Not many companies of RAFN's size (100 employees) can boast such an abundance of experienced professionals with a strong dedication to the industry at the top. Beyond the experience, RAFN offers much more.

Do you believe in magic? RAFN has the ability to combine the specialized capabilities of a small corporation with the numerous resources of a large company. How is RAFN able to do it? "Magic," Ambrey jokes, "Or at least our competitors see it that way."

In reality, Ambrey explains, "We focus on our customers and our people. We have used our business model to create very sophisticated systems and processes that allow the time and freedom to focus on relationships." Another structural component that makes RAFN a successful company is use of a strictly streamlined process in its project management phase. This streamline allows for leaner schedules and controlled budgets.

Beaulieu elaborates, "One thing we discovered 15 years ago was because much of our work is referral and customer based, in order for us to be successful we needed the same results regardless of who was working with the customer. So we spent a fair amount of time and effort and money to create a system and process that everyone in the company can utilize so we have a single source of constant improvement. That system and process is available to everyone and every job site through our intranet."

Having a fully integrated constant improvement process leaves RAFN's people free to focus on customer service and customizing project delivery to meet each clients needs. RAFN can tackle both private and public work with consistent values. Those values coupled with like-minded customers and unique projects, create an environment where people choose RAFN as long-term partner.

PROJECTS AND REPUTATION
The majority of RAFN's endeavors are commercial, mixed-use and special projects. Commercial projects typically involve private schools, country clubs and religious facilities, along with a variety of unique, challenging projects. The mixed-use projects usually involve urban infill and historic renovations. The smaller special projects are a non-traditional project management based system that allows RAFN to give customers that small-time feel.

RAFN's book of work currently includes a 160-unit boutique hotel, a 320,000-square foot mixed-use infill with significant parking and retail, a small office building renovation for a private university and a complete urban village retail center renovation. Some of RAFN's recently completed projects include the Terry Thomas LEED Gold office building, Weber Thompson LEED Platinum Architects offices, Colman School Renovation and the Northwest African American Museum. The company continues to thrive in the affordable housing and mixed use market, remaining competitive as well as focused on long-term quality construction.

Ambrey says RAFN has a reputation for taking on challenging projects that provide an opportunity to do something that has not done before. According to Ambrey, this is how RAFN built its reputation in Seattle.

"We were willing to try what others said couldn't be done. We had that reputation. When they reached the conclusion it couldn't be done, others would come to us and we would make it happen," he explains.

"Our people thrive on that opportunity and we work hard to provide that opportunity. The energy that comes from that environment refuels the organization's enthusiastic approach to challenges. This coupled with sound business goals identified in our balanced model is what gives us a world class culture, good people and great work."
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